CLARION - "We are in a crisis," said Ed Goth of the Clarion County Emergency Medical Services Task Force during the recent convention of the Clarion County Association of Township Supervisors.
The crisis is with the emergency medical services in Clarion County.
Goth said when he started with emergency services over 30 years ago there were 10 EMS agencies in the county.
Today there are only five.
"There is a crisis not only in Clarion County but in Western Pennsylvania," Goth said. "It is all around us."
Goth said there are two things affecting the ability to provide adequate services -- a lack of funding and a lack of qualified employees.
"They are leaving to go into other medical fields because the funding from Medicare and Medicaid is just not there," said Goth. "They can get more from convenience store than to go out and save someone's life."
Clarion County Department of Public Safety Director Jeff Smathers added, "There are times that we don't have ambulances in the county. We have to pull one from another county and hope that we have enough time to get it to you."
Smathers said he spoke to the gathering of township supervisors four years ago.
"Unfortunately, we are here again today," Smathers lamented.
Smathers said that out of the five services available, two will be out of service on any given day.
"That is two or three ambulances for a county of over 40,000 people," he said. "You can see where we have a serious problem."
Clarion County Commissioner Ed Heasley explained, "The bottom line is that someone could call the 9-1-1 center and the message they get will be we will send the next available unit.
"This is a serious problem with the ambulance service and the fire service. Local officials need to wake up."
Smathers said when they are really short in Clarion County an ambulance will sit halfway between Station One (Clarion) and Station 3 (New Bethlehem).
"They will sit in Frogtown so they can go in either direction," Smathers said.
Part of the problem is reimbursement said Heasley.
"They wait for months before they get reimbursed from a call. In the meantime the ambulance services have to carry that debt. Sometimes they make a trip that costs $800 and get reimbursed $200," Heasley said.
Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-63) said the legislature is aware of the problem.
"One thing people can do is subscribe to the ambulance services," said Oberlander. "People can also donate to the fire companies."
Oberlander said people assume that because they have insurance their coverage pays for ambulance calls.
"Unfortunately, we have found they are not paying the full amount," she said. "Filling out those subscription cards and making that donation would go a long way recovering some of the losses they are experiencing."
Oberlander said she is working on several bills in Harrisburg that would help emergency providers, including one that would allow counties to enact a tax for emergency services.
"We have made changes to the reimbursement rate for Medicaid to help." Oberlander said. "There are certainly changes needed at the state and federal level."
In April, the Clarion County commissioners formed the countywide Emergency Medical Services Task Force. The commissioners approved a letter of intent for free technical assistance with the Department of Community and Economic Development.
The task force will be working with the DCED to complete a study that looks for additional revenue areas and to find ways to recruit, train and educate additional EMS providers.
In addition to the Clarion Hospital, stations are in East Brady, Knox and Shippenville. The ambulance services were originally staffed by volunteers all of the ambulance services are now professional.